Hailed from Féternes, in a village named Vers le Creux, Claudine was born on 29 May 1801. Her parents were extremely poor but had great faith. They had nine children, four of whom died at an early age. Claudine, the eldest in the family, was placed at a noticeably young age as a shepherdess in Champanges, then as a servant in Publier and Châteauvieux. Driven by an ardent desire to learn, she managed to read, thanks to the kind service of a neighbour. She was fifteen years old when her mother died. Very devoted to her father, all the spheres of power in the household and the education of her brothers and sisters were on Claudine; she assumed this responsibility with courage and abnegation. To support her family, she wanted to become a seamstress. Her friend from Marin taught her how to cut and sew; from then on, she started working at home and going from house to house to mend or make clothes. A few years later, her father remarried, and thus she was freed from her family responsibilities.
In 1828, the vicar of the parish of Féternes was appointed parish priest in Chavanod. He offered Claudine to care for her elderly mother and provide services in the presbytery. Desirous of constantly seeking the will of God, she took time to pray, reflect and seek advice before giving a positive answer to this offer.
Claudine was 27 years old when she arrived in Chavanod. Fr. Delalex and Claudine were quick enough to sense the state of ignorance of the children and the demanding situation of the young people. She, who had never known the joy of going to school, opened her kitchen doors to the little girls of Chavanod to teach them what she had learnt. She also gathered young girls on Sunday afternoons to read, reflect and pray with them. She was always keen to educate herself in order to provide better support for children and young people to lift them out of their poverty; she then went to Geneva for a few months to perfect her reading and writing skills. Feeling called repeatedly to a life entirely given to God and to serve others, Claudine asked the permission of the parish priest Fr. Delalex to leave the parish. She rented a room near the church, devoted more time to prayer and continued teaching the girls in the commune. Some young girls asked to share the lifestyle of Claudine.
Claudine met Fr. Pierre-Marie Mermier, the founder of the Missionaries of Saint Francis de Sales, in Chavanod during a parish retreat preached by his Missionary fathers, who went from parish to parish to enliven the faith of Christians. Fr. Mermier was concerned about the situation of the young girls in the countryside and the education of the poor. He dreamed of creating an association of young girls to ensure the instruction and education of children in rural areas. When he listened to Claudine’s experiences in Chavanod with the children and young people, he saw in her the person who could lead this association. He invited her to meet Mgr. Rey, the Bishop of Annecy, who blessed her work and encouraged her to pursue it. Gathered around Claudine and guided by Fr. Mermier, the young girls who wanted to follow Claudine’s way of life thus became the first Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod. The congregation, founded in 1838, was recognised by a letter from Mgr. Rey on 4 November 1841. Among the first sisters, some were teachers in rural areas; others were workers in families and high schools of the diocese. All of them were committed to making the Lord known and loved and to serving the neediest. They went to Switzerland in 1862. When Sr. Claudine died in 1869, there were already 300 sisters in the congregation.
In 1886, a glorious page in the history of the congregation opened on the horizon with the first foundation in India. From 1886 to 1921, sixty-six European sisters embarked on a mission to India. In 1951, sisters in India opened a community in Sri Lanka. Many communities were established in various countries and on other continents:
In Central Africa: Congo Brazzaville (1958), Cameroon (1987), Democratic Republic of Congo (2022)
In East Africa: Tanzania (1979), Kenya (2000), Uganda (2006)
In other Asian countries: Nepal (1985) and Israel (1986)
In Latin America: Peru (1989), Colombia (1996), Ecuador (2006) and in the USA in 2002.
Thus, the congregation took on an international dimension to accomplish its mission on four continents.
Bearing the official title of the Sisters of the Cross, the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is for each sister an inexhaustible source of strength and joy to live her vocation as a disciple, a call to reveal the infinite love of God to all humanity.
Following in the footsteps of Mother Claudine Echernier and Fr. Pierre-Marie Mermier, the Sisters of the Cross are nourished and guided by the life witness and the writings of St. Francis de Sales and St. Ignatius of Loyola.